District energy is today a major part of Vancouver’s effort to reduce its carbon emissions by 33% by 2020 from a 2007 baseline. The city aims to achieve a district energy target reduction of 120,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by 2020 as outlined in its Greenest City Action Plan. Driven by these targets, Vancouver has developed a Neighbourhood Energy Strategy (NES) and supporting Energy Centre Guidelines to help the city convert legacy steam heat systems to lower carbon fuel sources (delivering an estimated 95,000 tonnes CO2 emissions reduction) and promote development of new low-carbon systems in high-density areas of the city (delivering an estimated 25,000 tonnes CO2 emissions reduction).


Target areas viable for NES implementation were identified in an energy mapping exercise based on the location of existing and proposed heat systems, existing and projected development density and major development projects, as well as the potential for existing buildings heated by natural gas to be connected to NES. The three key target areas identified in the energy study were Downtown (with a large steam heat system built in 1960s serving more than 210 buildings), the Cambie Corridor (with the opportunity to convert the steam heat systems of two hospital campuses), and Central Broadway (with a high number of potentially convertible natural-gas heated buildings). In addition, five site-scale energy projects as well as two new NES are already being implemented in areas with potential large developments.

Reasons for success

Vancouver benefits from having prior steam heat district energy systems in place, which lowers the amount of investment necessary for achieving a modern and low- carbon district heating. The conversion is also greatly facilitated by a clear CO2 reduction target from district energy (120,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by 2020), to which converting the legacy steam system alone will contribute an estimated 80%. 

C40 Good Practice Guides

C40's Good Practice Guides offer mayors and urban policymakers roadmaps for tackling climate change, reducing climate risk and encouraging sustainable urban development. With 100 case studies taken from cities of every size, geography and stage of development around the world, the Good Practice Guides provide tangible examples of climate solutions that other cities can learn from. 

The District Energy Good Practice Guide is available for download here.  The full collection of C40 Good Practice Guides is available for download here.  

All references can be found in the full guide.

  • Economic
  • Environmental
Key Impact
Support the city to help city convert two legacy steam heat systems to lower carbon fuel sources, reducing emissions by 120,000 tonnes of CO2
Emissions Reduction
120,000 tCO2e through conversion of legacy steam heat systems to lower carbon fuel sources
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